Many people have heard of ADHD but may not really know what it is. Scientists themselves have long struggled to understand it. Modern theories on this disorder are relatively new, and many old misconceptions persist today. Many adolescences still go undiagnosed because of these misconceptions.
However, paying attention to possible symptoms can enable more effective care and management. So, what are symptoms of ADHD in a teenager?
What do I look for?
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by three primary symptoms:
- Inattention: difficulty with maintaining attention
- Impulsivity: acting hastily or rashly, without thinking
- Hyperactivity: sustained periods of restlessness and overactivity
Displaying these behaviors does not necessarily mean ADHD is to blame; many people can be susceptible to a wandering mind or an excess of energy, and other mental disorders can have similar symptoms. What makes ADHD is a frequent pattern of these behaviors to a degree where it interferes negatively with one’s life.
The underlying causes of ADHD are not fully understood yet, but current research suggests ADHD is a product of both genes and environmental risk factors during development—such as smoking or drinking during pregnancy, brain injuries or environmental toxins. Conversely, popular assumptions about ADHD being the result of poor parenting or overeating sugar remain unsupported by studies.
What Does ADHD in Teens Look Like?
ADHD can manifest differently from one diagnosis to the next, with certain symptoms being predominant over others. Based on this, three broad subcategories of ADHD are known: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined. The presentation of ADHD also varies with age, gender, and other circumstances. However, there are common behaviors shown in those with ADHD, including:
- Daydreaming or being lost in thought frequently
- Making mistakes due to either neglecting details or acting thoughtlessly
- Fidgeting, pacing and struggling to sit still
- Excessive talking or intruding on conversations
- Averse response to tasks that require focused mental effort, like schoolwork.
These symptoms often manifest differently in teenage patients and can include difficulties with planning or organizing, chronic restlessness or impulsiveness, poor stress management or frustration tolerance, inability to multitask and being prone to fixation.
Since these don’t quite fit most people’s mental image of ADHD, and because adults with ADHD often also develop other disorders like anxiety or depression, there is a popular belief that children can “grow out of” ADHD.
Early Signs of ADHD and Diagnosis
Recognizing ADHD symptoms early in life makes it easier to formulate a treatment. There is no single, well-defined method of diagnosing ADHD, but perceptive parents and assessment from a mental health professional or pediatrician can make it possible.
Identifying patterns of inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive behavior is a major part of this: the DSM-5 mandates that at least six (or five for patients 17 or older) symptoms must be identified, determined to be present for at least six months and demonstrated as detrimental or inappropriate.
The health professional also needs to evaluate the patient to determine that there isn’t another condition that better explains the symptoms. Input from parents, teachers, and others close to the patient is valuable to both identifying symptoms and eliminating other possibilities, showing behaviors as they manifest in daily life instead of just in the office.
Though ADHD is not curable in a traditional sense, its manifestations can be managed through therapy, medication, and developing strategies to compensate for difficulties or channel aptitudes. Obtaining a diagnosis as early as possible makes these treatments more effective if you suspect that your child may have ADHD, contact and visit a pediatrician or mental health professional to start moving towards a better future for your child.
Related Article: Knowing the Difference Between Normal and Troubled Teen Behavior
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker